Tuesday, September 19, 2023


Contact For Trading Firms and Media:  steenbab at aol dot com

My Twitter Feed:  @steenbab

RADICAL RENEWAL - Free blog book on trading, psychology, spirituality, and leading a fulfilling life


The Three Minute Trading Coach Videos


Forbes Articles:

My coaching work applies evidence-based psychological techniques (see my background and my book on the topic) to the improvement of productivity, quality of life, teamwork, leadership, hiring best practices, and creativity/idea generation.  Trading firms, teams, and portfolio managers interested in performance coaching and help with hiring processes can email me at steenbab at aol dot com.  Please note that my work is limited to trading and investment firms, so I cannot provide online advice or coaching services to individual, independent traders


I wish you the best of luck in your development as a trader and in your personal evolution.  In the end, those are one and the same:  paths to becoming who we already are when we are at our best.


Why Traders Are Losing Money In Recent Markets

We detect strength in the stock market and we buy.  We detect weakness and we sell.  Both occasions lose money.  What is going on?  In this post, we will take a look at market behavior and how market patterns themselves create trading psychology challenges.  The common assumption is that, if we can just maintain a good mindset, we'll be able to identify market patterns and make money.  This post will show that this is a gross simplification.

I examined the last three years of daily data, focusing on the SPY and the percentage of stocks in the Standard and Poors 500 Index trading above their 5 and 20 day moving averages.  (Data from the excellent Barchart site).  I divided the data set into quartiles and specifically examined what happens following periods of very strong (top quartile) and very weak breadth (bottom quartile).

When the percentage of stocks trading above their five-day moving averages was in the top quartile (approximately 74+%), the next five days in SPY averaged a loss of -.14%.  Note that this was during a period in which SPY rose by approximately 30% and the average daily gain was +.20%.  When the percentage of stocks trading above their five-day moving averages was in the bottom quartile (approximately less than 33%), the next five days in SPY averaged a gain of +.57%.  In other words, going with strength after a five-day period lost a trader money regardless of their mindset.  Buying stocks,after five days of weakness--when it's scariest to be jumping into the market--was solidly profitable and more than doubled average returns.


So now let's examine average returns after 20 days of strength and weakness.  When 20-day returns have been strongest (over 73% of stocks trading above their 20-day moving averages), the next 20 days in SPY have averaged a loss of about -.31%.  This is eye-opening, as the average 20-day gain during this period was +.79%.  Conversely, when 20-day returns have been in their weakest quartile (fewer than 37% of stocks trading above their 20-day moving averages), the next 20 days have averaged a whopping gain of +1.85%.  Going with strength systematically lost traders money; fading weakness achieved superior returns.

In short, traders lose money when they focus on trend and momentum.  They are expecting strong and weak returns to continue into the future.  What actually happens on average, however, is reversal.  Stocks behave in a cyclical way.  When markets *do* display momentum and trend, it is generally because longer-term cycles are dominant.  The up or down phase of a longer-term cycle overwhelms any reversal tendencies in the short run.  (Note how this opens the door to forecasting market movement as a function of the interaction of multiple cycles:  a topic I hope to address soon).

The market tends to frustrate the expectations of traders.  It is human nature to extrapolate the future from the past.  This--regardless of a trader's psychology--will lose money over time.  Drawing and following trendlines, going with breakouts, waiting for "price confirmation" to enter market moves:  all, over time, lose money.  It is not just our psychology that undermines our trading.  It is our assumptions.

Further Reading:

How to Lead a Visionary Life

The Secret to Overcoming Adversity


Tuesday, September 12, 2023

How to Lead a Visionary Life

The great risk in life is to live reactively, bouncing from activity to activity without plan or purpose.  When we live purposeful lives, life becomes meaningful--and that gives us energy.  Suppose we were to begin our days, weeks, and months by posing questions:

*  What is the one thing I most want to accomplish today in my personal life and in my work life that will make the day successful?

*  What is the one thing I most want to accomplish this week in my personal and work lives that will make the week successful?

*  What is the one thing I most want to accomplish this month in my personal and work lives that will make the month successful?

*  What is the one thing I most want to accomplish this year in my personal and work lives that will make the year successful?

That's it:  Every day, every week, every month, every year is guided by a singular vision.  What one thing will lead you to look back on each day, week, month, and year and feel pride in what you've accomplished?  

Once we have a vision, we cannot live on auto-pilot.  The one thing you most want to accomplish becomes your mission statement--it pushes you and inspires you.  The risk isn't trying and falling short; it's never trying and never finding out what we're capable of.

Further Reading:

Making Your Passion Your Purpose

The Profound Psychological Benefits of a Purposeful Life


Thursday, September 07, 2023

The Secret to Overcoming Adversity

Margie and I recently toured Eastern Europe and finished the trip with a tour of the concentration camp at Terezin.  During the 3-1/2 years of the camp's existence, thousands of inmates were killed or died of untreated diseases.  What I found most memorable were the displays of artworks created by the inmates during their internment.  Music, painting, drama, sculpture:  all were of vital importance to the inmates.  Despite inhuman conditions of crowding and frequent abuse and torture, prisoners focused on creating works of beauty.  That many of these works are with us today attests to the success of their quest.     

For me, it was a powerful reminder that, no matter how bad our situations become, we always can rise above them through creative expression and achievement.  When we create--a painting, a book, a scientific theory, even a trading system--we rise above what is and realize a vision of what can be.  Indeed, the more we face loss and setback, the more important it becomes to create and immerse ourselves in meaning and beauty.

The secret to overcoming adversity is to transform your life into a work of art:  to become so focused on creating what is beautiful and meaningful that everything else becomes secondary.  Our relationships can become masterpieces; our careers can become paths for pursuing a vision of what is possible.  All of us become artists when we approach life creatively and find the beauty in each facet of life.      

As I was leaving the courtyard of Terezin where prisoners were herded into barracks, I noticed a smooth, round, quartz-like stone on the ground.  I took the stone home with me, and it now sits on my desk where I do my writing.  It's an immediate reminder of the horrors that I saw--and also the soaring human spirit that transcended the evil.  

Every life setback--including setbacks in markets--is an opportunity to rise above loss and create the future.  We tap into our Divinity when we become Creators.

Further Reading:

The Role of Creative Insight in Trading Success


Monday, August 28, 2023

The Wellness Grid: A Framework For Optimizing Your Trading Psychology


Note:  Written aboard a ship on the Danube River, traveling to Prague, Czech Republic:

Imagine a 3x3 Wellness Grid:

On the X axis, we have three dimensions of psychological wellness:  

1)  Happiness - How much joy we experience;

2)  Fulfillment - How much satisfaction and pride we experience;

3)  Energy - How much inspiration and excitement we experience;

On the Y axis, we have three dimensions of wellness in life:

1)  Personal Life - What we are doing to develop ourselves as individuals;

2)  Interpersonal Life - What we are doing to maintain, expand, and deepen our relationships;

3)  Work Life - What we are doing to grow and succeed in the work we undertake.

With this Wellness Grid, we have a handy weekly report card that enables us to track over time how well we are maximizing the quality of our lives.  We also have a framework for tracking the synergies in our lives:  the degree to which improving one area of life creates benefits for other areas.  And, of course, we can track how setbacks in one sphere of life might be impacting others.

If we are consciously working on the nine boxes of the Wellness Grid, what we're really working on is intentionality:  the expansion of our free will.  The idea is to live life in a state in which we're fully awake, not functioning on auto-pilot.  We maximize our trading psychology when we maximize our capacities for living intentionally.  The big enemy of mindset is not stress; it's the absence of well-being.  We all need routines to live life efficiently, but when all of life becomes a set of routines, we are no longer fully alive--and we fail to grow.  Ideally, each week, we push ourselves beyond our comfort levels in all nine areas of the Wellness Grid.

Further Reading:

Tacking Your Problems Will Never Optimize Your Life

Gurdjieff, Turtles, and Trading


Sunday, August 20, 2023

Weak Market: What Comes Next?

We've seen a stock market that has been rather weak over the last couple of weeks.  Higher interest rates at the long end have particularly impacted rate-sensitive sectors, such as utilities and real estate, and have provided support for the U.S. dollar and dollar-related carry trades.  Speculation has shifted from imminent recession to an environment of "sticky" inflation and rates that are likely to be "higher for longer".  So is the recent pullback in stocks an opportunity to participate in the longer-term uptrend, or is it a warning to preserve capital?

Let's step back a minute.

I observe two problems among market participants.  The first is to construct trades without underlying robust ideas.  Traders who look to charts for "setups" are particularly guilty of this mistake.  The second problem is to generate big picture, top-down narratives based on fundamental data, but not anchor these themes in well-analyzed trades that provide favorable reward relative to risk in a shorter-term time frame.  My experience with successful market participants is that they are both investors and traders.  They generate robust bigger picture ideas through unique, rigorous analyses and they then translate those ideas into good trades by rigorously assessing shorter-term risk-reward.

In the terms of Daniel Kahneman, success in markets requires both deeper, slower thinking and faster, flexible thinking.  In practice, this means having consistent strategies but flexibly adapting the implementation of those frameworks based upon current conditions.

So now let's look at the current market:

I notice that, across the NYSE universe, we have seen over 1500 stocks making fresh monthly lows and fewer than 1000 registering new three-month lows.  That is what we would expect during a correction in a rising market.  When one-month lows *and* three-month lows are high (bear market), next ten-day returns since 2010 have been negative.  When one-month lows have been high and three-month lows have not been significantly elevated, next ten-day returns have been distinctively bullish--significantly above average.

In short, context matters.

When analyzing market returns, it's not enough to examine one time frame.  We want to see how the shorter time frame fits into the market's larger picture.

Let's take a second example.  This past week, looking across the NYSE universe, we have seen very few stocks giving buy signals on two technical trading systems, the Wells Wilder Parabolic SAR and the Bollinger Bands.  These systems assess strength and weakness across shorter (SAR) and medium (Bollinger) time frames.  When the number of stocks providing buy signals on the SAR has been weak but the number of stocks giving buy signals on the Bollinger measure has been relatively strong, next ten-day returns since 2019 have been flat to negative.  When we have had few buy signals on both technical systems simultaneously, next ten-day returns have been solidly bullish.

Again, context matters.

Across a number of these kinds of analyses, we see favorable average near term returns after selloffs in rising markets.  That's the perspective from the slower, deeper analyses.  Now, going forward, if we see selling pressure that cannot result in lower prices, we can speculate that bears are trapped, will need to cover, and we could bet on higher prices going forward.  Conversely, if we see that buying pressure is limited and/or cannot drive price meaningfully higher, we can entertain the idea that this time, indeed, may be different and follow that up with further analyses and possibly very different bets.

The most successful traders I work with look at new and different things and they look at things in new and different ways.  Over time, unique returns cannot come from consensus thinking.  

Further Reading:

The Momentum Curve


Monday, August 14, 2023

Your Flaw Is Your Strength

While writing my next book, I came across a thought-provoking essay from a well-known Jewish Rabbi, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.  His topic was the opal stone that we see in jewelry.

The opal gem consists of small silica spheres and gaps between the spheres, which in one context could be considered flaws.  However, the very gaps that occur on the opal's surface are what create the opal's beauty when light is shined.  The light rays are diffracted by the spheres and gaps, which break the light into a fiery array of component colors.  The Rabbi's point is that we are like opals:  what are our flaws when viewed one way become our greatest sources of beauty in a different light.  

Our flaws, in the right light, are our strengths.

For example, in one light, our ambition and achievement orientation are flaws, leading us to become so wrapped up in our work that we neglect our health and relationships.  Those flaws lead us to trade from the egooverreact to gains and losses, and chop ourselves up when big moves aren't realized.

In a different light, our ambition and achievement orientation lead us to define and seek goals and ideals and realize our vision for being the best possible version of ourselves. 

There are so many ways in which our flaws and strengths mirror one another.  Think about how our sensitivity in relationships can lead to caring, but also hurt and disagreements.  Think about how our desire for self-development can result in personal growth--and in an insensitivity to others.  Think about how our commitment to not losing money can stand in the way of making significant money.

We are like opals, and our challenge is to find the light that enables us to shine.

Here's a simple exercise to help with that challenge:  Each week, identify the one most fulfilling, meaningful event that occurred to you during the past seven days.  Then identify the one most frustrating, negative event over that same period.  Then reflect on how the two are related and what made the positive experience so special and what made the negative experience so disappointing.  What is the light in which you are simply a stone with spheres and gaps, and what is the light in which you shine?  Over time, keeping this simple journal, you'll discover the contexts in which you display your fire.   

The goal is not to eliminate your flaws, but to turn those into sources of beauty.

Further Reading:

Greatness in Life and Trading


Sunday, August 06, 2023

Why Do I Get Chopped Up In My Trading?


The most recent post took a look at why we can perform well in markets, only to suddenly make poor decisions and blow up.  Now we'll examine a second common complaint of traders, especially in recent markets:  how we can develop good ideas for trades but then get chopped up in actually trading those ideas.  Most often this occurs when we are counting on momentum or trend--shorter or longer-term extensions of directional moves--only to experience reversals.  

Getting chopped up can cause considerable psychological frustration, but I'm not sure it's a purely psychological problem.  Let's look at the last 10 years of data from the stock market to illustrate the point:

For the first investigation, I broke down the daily closing cash VIX level into quartiles and examined the forward returns in the SPX.  When VIX has been in the lowest half of its distribution over the past ten years (below 16.66), the next five days in SPX have averaged a gain of only +.06%.  When VIX has been in the highest half of its distribution, the next five days in SPX have averaged a gain of +.36%.  The results widen out over time, so that the next twenty-day return in SPX for the two VIX conditions have been +.32% vs. +1.39%.  We know that VIX tends to fall in a rising market and rise in a falling market.  Indeed, there is a very significant correlation between VIX and most recent 50, 100, and 200-day returns.  What the data are telling us is that we are most likely to get a meaningful five-day bounce in a weak, volatile market.

For the second investigation, I examined the daily 5-day RSI for every stock in the SPX and the overall average level of those 5-day RSIs.  I then broke those daily average RSIs into quartiles over the past ten years.  Sure enough, when the RSIs have been in their weakest quartile, the next five days in SPX averaged +.49% vs. +.11% for the remainder of the sample.  When the market sells off over a five-day period, the next five day returns are superior to all other market occasions.  

For the third investigation, I examined the percentage of stocks in the SPX closing each day above their five-day moving averages over the past ten years.  When that percentage has been in its highest quartile, next five-day returns have averaged only .06%.  When the percentage has been in its lowest quartile, net five day returns have averaged a respectable +.51%. 

Historically, strong markets have led to more modest forward returns and weak markets have led to superior returns.  This occurs over multiple time frames.  Indeed, by creating a momentum curve across various time periods, we can develop reasonable forecasts for future market moves.

We get chopped up when we expect momentum and trends to extend.  Our expectations set us up for frustration.  This becomes a particular problem if we wait for "price confirmation" to enter a rising or falling market.  By the time that confirmation occurs, the anticipated forward returns are diminished.  One way of overcoming this problem is to investigate the presence of cycles in the market data and use short-term cycles to trade trending markets.  I have consistently found that how we trade a market idea is just as important to profitability as the idea itself.  If we can find short-term cycles within the market moves we're trading, we can become much better at finding superior risk/reward, both on entries and on take-profit levels.

Not all problems that impact our psychology are psychological in origin.  Our tendency to think in straight lines and ignore cycles breeds considerable frustration.

Trading well is the best formula for a winning psychology.


Sunday, July 30, 2023

Why Do I Blow Up My Trading?

The recent blog post presented ways in which we can listen to our intuitive inner voice as traders.  Sometimes, we not only fail to listen to our inner voice, but actively do what we know to be harmful to our trading and our success.  We trade well week after week and suddenly oversize a position, refuse to act on a stop, add to the losing position, and then blow up.  Or, on the other hand, we become so concerned about losses that we quickly exit winning positions before they reach their targets, leaving significant money on the table and blowing up our chances for real success.  

Why does this happen?  What can we do to keep ourselves aligned with sound practices and processes? 

A reader recently reached out, explaining that he once in a while experiences losses that wipe out a large share of his monthly profits.  It is frustrating to trade well most of the time, only to lose discipline and seemingly sabotage all we've accomplished.  As the graphic above suggests, the root of self-sabotage is self-abandonment.  We temporarily lose sight of what we're meant to do and instead act on impulse.  In the terms of the Radical Renewal online book, we abandon the soul of what we do and allow our trading to become ego-driven.  

I have never been convinced that the root of such self-sabotage is a deep-seated, inner desire to hurt oneself.  It is usually not an absence of self-esteem that causes us to become reactive.  Rather, we experience "triggers" that set off automatic and often harmful actions.  The problem is a temporary loss of free will.  Under a certain set of emotional and physical conditions, we behave in pre-programmed ways and become reactive rather than active.  Quite literally, it is a loss of self-awareness that allows us to behave in ways that harm our best interests.

Consider the many situations in which we *never* go on tilt and behave reactively and self-destructively.  We're not careful in crossing busy streets 99% of the time, only to occasionally walk directly in front of traffic.  We don't operate machinery (lawn mowers, ovens) safely most of the time, only to occasionally cut or burn ourselves severely.  Why don't we go on tilt in those situations?  Reason one is that our egos are not involved, and reason two is that we are supremely aware of the dangers at hand.  If I don't *need* to cross the road quickly and I'm mindful of the busy traffic, I am perfectly able to wait for a break in the flow of cars to cross safely.  If I'm clearly aware of danger, I will act with caution.  Always.

This is where it's helpful to engage in a "check up from the neck up" prior to any risk taking.  If a surgeon is scheduled for a procedure, but is in an agitated state because of a personal circumstance, that surgeon will delay the operation.  "Above all else do no harm" is the operative principle.  If a pilot is about to take off for a flight, they reach out to the co-pilot and--together--go through the pre-flight checklist to make sure the plane is truly air-worthy.  If something is wrong mechanically, the flight will be delayed.  Above all else, do no harm.

The opposite of self-abandonment is self-awareness.  If we approach each session of trading--each trade!--the way a surgeon approaches an operation or the way in which a pilot preps for a flight, then we are in the state we're normally in when we're crossing a busy street.  The awareness of risk and danger enables us to do no harm.  It isn't discipline or "process" orientation that enables us to not go on tilt when we're handling a carving knife in the kitchen.  It's the immediate, acute awareness of danger.  The key is self-awareness:  knowing when we're in the wrong mindset for risk-taking.  Like the surgeon, like the pilot, we must take danger so seriously that we're willing to postpone our performance until we're assured that we will "do no harm".  If we've performed our own checkup from the neck up, we're not going to trade on impulse.  

Further Readings:

Understanding Trading Tilt

How to Overcome Tilt

Video on Tilt Trading

Advice on Tilt to SMB Traders

Radical Renewal and the Spirituality of Trading


Monday, July 17, 2023

Finding and Following Your Inner Voice

The recent post took a look at developing uniqueness as a trader, focusing on developing new sources of data and fresh ways of viewing markets.  In point of fact, however, there are many ways in which we can approach markets uniquely.  One successful money manager recently shared with me ways in which AI can improve the risk/reward of trading.  Another trader is making use of complex options structures to ride out market noise and take advantage of longer-term trends.  But one trader who wrote to me asked a unique question about uniqueness:  Can we find unique edge in how we approach our trading psychology?  Specifically, he asks, are there ways we could become better at listening to our inner voice?

This is a very tricky question and issue.  On one hand, we could view our negative self-talk as an inner voice and allow our worst emotional patterns to control our trading.  On the other hand, we know that the pattern recognition of intuition often manifests itself as an inner voice.  When do we listen to that voice?  When do we challenge that voice and replace it with one that is more helpful?  Consider the example of regret.  Is that a helpful prod that enables us to learn from our mistakes, or is it driving by the rear view mirror and interfering with what is happening here and now?

How can we innovate in tackling our trading psychology?

Consider the above quote from Craig Revel Horwood, choreographer and dance show judge.  What he is saying is not simply to follow your inner voice, but to listen to that voice if it comes while you are following your passion.  In other words, it is the absorption of being in the flow state during an activity we're passionate about that leads to the intuitions of the inner voice.  If we don't have a passion for something, we will not arrive at any meaningful intuitions about that thing.  Plumbing?  Growing watermelons?  Racing horses?  I've never been involved in any of those and guess what?  I have no intuitions whatsoever about how to do them well.

When we are absorbed in a passion, we experience things in new ways and generate fresh perspectives.  It is the depth of involvement that generates the breadth of vision.  Anything we do to more completely absorb ourselves in markets will enable us to see new things and innovate.  As the Radical Renewal online book suggests, we find our inner voice, not by listening to the chatter and self-talk of the ego, but by fully engaging what speaks to our soul.  The self talk of the ego is something we do on auto-pilot.  True intuition comes to us.

And feelings of regret?  When we're fully immersed in markets and feel regret, the odds are good that we can turn what we did wrong into a learning lesson and true growth.  Regret may not feel good, but, as Radical Renewal points out, it is a path to growth in just about every spiritual tradition.  The process of falling short and repenting is quite different from automatic, mindless self-criticism.  One is a path to growth; the other interferes with our performance.

We can find and follow our authentic inner voice only in the full involvement of an activity we're passionate about.  We find our uniqueness as traders when we are most absorbed in--and fascinated by--markets.

Additional Reading:

How We Can Improve Our Access to Intuition

The Role of Intuition in Trading Decisions


Sunday, July 09, 2023

Developing Your Uniqueness as a Trader

We commonly hear that a key to trading success is being disciplined and remaining grounded in a robust process.  That is true, but it is only part of the truth.  If we're disciplined in doing the same things as other people, we will simply be more consistent in achieving mediocre returns.  Having worked with many traders and trading firms over the years--and especially having participated in the recruitment of traders at those firms--I can say with confidence that distinctively successful traders view markets in distinctively unique ways.  They don't just have better answers; they ask better questions.  Unusually successful traders simply look at different things than average traders and look at markets in different and distinctive ways.

An important start toward cultivating our uniqueness is acquiring fresh data sets.  In trading the overall stock market, one data set that I have found to be promising is the percentage of stocks within each sector trading above various moving averages.  (Data from the excellent Barchart.com site).  So, for example, I track the percentage of stocks within the energy sector (XLE), consumer discretionary sector (XLY), consumer staples sector (XLP), health care sector (XLV), etc. that are above their respective 20-day moving averages.  This information tells us, not just if the overall market has been strong or weak, but which parts of markets have been particularly strong or weak.

Collecting new data enables us to ask new--and sometimes much better--questions.

So, for example, what have we seen going forward in the overall market (SPY) when consumer discretionary stocks greatly outperform or underperform consumer staples stocks?  Is there unique information in relative breadth strength and weakness?

Sure enough, when the percentage of consumer discretionary stocks above their moving averages has been much greater than the percentage of consumer staples stocks over the past three years, we see notably weak returns over the next five trading days in SPY, but particularly strong returns over the next 20 days.  Interestingly, this is a pattern we also see following unusually strong breadth thrust moves in the overall market:  a tendency to consolidate/pullback in the next few days, followed by upside momentum.  It makes sense that a relative breadth thrust among consumer discretionary stocks would display such momentum, as investors are counting on the kind of economic growth that sustains discretionary spending.

By contrast, when a large percentage of utility company stocks have been trading above their 20-day moving averages, the next 20-day returns in SPY have been negative, compared with solidly positive returns when few utility company stocks have been trading above their 20-day averages.  The flight to the safety of yields has not been a promising medium-term indicator of returns for the overall market.     

How about when traders aggressively move into small cap stocks?  When the number of stocks in the SP 600 small cap index trading above their 20-day moving averages has been quite high, next 5-10 day returns in SPY have been negative, before subsequently going significantly higher.  Once again, this is a pattern similar to that observed with general breadth thrusts.

And the current market?  We've seen solid breadth among the industrial stocks (XLI) with the great majority of shares trading above their 20-day moving averages.  Interestingly, over the past three years, that has led to short-term follow-through in SPY, but relatively weak returns over a next 20-day period.  And recent breadth strength among real estate stocks (XLRE)?  That, too, has been associated with relative weak SPY returns over a next 20-day horizon.  Those developments, on top of recent narrowing of outperformance by XLY over XLP has me cautious on the market.  Notice how the patterning of strength and weakness across sectors provides multiple perspectives on overall market performance as well as the performance of each sector.  When the weight of historical evidence lines up with what we're seeing in current price action, we have the makings of a promising trade.

This is but one example of how we can develop distinctive returns by studying distinctive market information.  I also collect databases of stocks making new highs and lows on a one- and three-month basis; stocks displaying buy and sell signals on various technical market indicators; etc.  All are ways of understanding when moves tend to reverse and when they tend to continue.  Trading success starts with looking at unique things, asking unique questions, and relying on objective data for answers.

Further Reading:

Trading With Breadth, Strength, and Momentum